I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. -John Muir, 1913
A trek into a tiger reserve might most readily evoke ideas of adventure and intrepid exploration. Bamboo rafting suggests a similar air of gallant expedition in an untamed wilderness. But when asked about my experience on the bamboo rafting and trekking tour through the Periyar Tiger Reserve, ‘peaceful’ was the word that came to mind. While all those notions of rough and rugged adventure are accurate, ‘peaceful’ is the expression that best describes that day, as well as the feeling I get when reflecting upon it.
As a first order of business after arriving in Kumily, I joined a group tour in the Periyar Tiger Reserve for some trekking and bamboo rafting. Sung (who provided some of the photos I share below) also came along, making a total of ten people in our group, with five young French women and three biologists, one English, one Spanish and one Portuguese. We started by strapping on our “gators,” precautionary socks worn over our pant legs and under our boots (or sneakers in the case of the French girls, whose bohemian style was appropriate for the country, but not for the countryside). As we were pulled by rope across a narrow section of the lake in groups of five, the sounds of civilization began to fade away, replaced for the following nine hours by the buzzing and chirping and calls of the wild. After crossing the passage and disembarking the raft, the trekking began, and within the first 45 minutes brought us into contact with a sounder of wild boar and a pandemonium of colorful parrots that swam through the air in perfect synchronicity like a school of fish in a Disney movie.
The rest of the day was spent trekking through the wild with intermittent resting pauses that gave one of the guides (whose apparent preference for bare footedness kept me in disbelief) time to scout which direction might yield the best sightings. Long stretches of quiet, unhurried rafting on a serene lake gave us time to absorb our surroundings with very little effort on our parts. A breakfast of fruit, coffee, biscuits and toast with fruit spreads was served at a campsite surrounded by a huge mote-like trench, apparently there to keep the animals out. Any attempt by a tour member to assist one of the guides was met with a stern yet well-intentioned “No! Sit down. I’ll bring it to you.” One guide’s communication style became the source of some comedy, as he seemed to be a fan of juxtaposing a polite prologue, “Excuse me,” with a firm command, “come here now.” His compact build and knowledge of the wilderness made him well suited for his job, as he was able to answer our questions before even being asked. For example, when I was wondering, “what on earth was that sound,” he promptly informed the group, “that’s a Malabar grey hornbill,” one of which Sung was lucky enough to catch a glimpse from his vantage point at the front of the pack.
When it was clear that we weren’t going to have the luck that most trekking groups have of spotting some wild elephants, or the luck that very few trekking groups have of spotting some wild tigers, we made our way back. The soothing sounds of the calm waters lapping against our rafts, combined with the warming sun and our postprandial lassitude, lulled some of us to sleep – a testament to how peaceful this day was. Being enveloped by such vast and natural surroundings allowed us all to retreat into a quiet place within ourselves for a time.
And even though there was a slight disappointment among the group for not having witnessed elephants or tigers in action, one of the French girls summed up the expedition perfectly when she said, “…mais c’est beau quand même.” Translation: “…but it’s beautiful anyway.”